I am disturbed by Xolela Mangcu’s column in which he commands president Jacob Zuma to write a book within six months. He argues that it is Zuma’s responsibility to carry on this tradition of ANC leaders, all of whom have written a book, a journal or made literary contributions to knowledge production. This argument must be challenged.
The biggest tragedy about our education system is that it treats students as if they have a uniform way of learning. It fails to take into consideration the fact that there is no one universal application of teaching that can cater to students’ learning differences. Some students’ learning style is auditory, they understand better when a teacher explains to them as opposed to when they have to read through a textbook. Some students are visual learners, they understand better when they look at graphics, demonstrations or read from textbooks. Some learners are kinaesthetic, they understand better when they do practical work. What this means is that if a kinaesthetic learner is placed in a classroom where they are forced to learn by listening to a teacher, they will most likely underperform. The same would happen if a visual learner were forced to be auditory. This is what the education system of our country does: it judges fish by their ability to cycle.
Mangcu’s argument that president Zuma should write a book employs the same failed logic. It seeks to suggest that there is one way of communicating ideas, that all other ways are illegitimate. Mangcu wants to argue that Zuma’s capacity as a president ought to be judged by his failure to produce literary work. He seeks to suggest that by not writing, president Zuma is less intellectually capacitated than former ANC leaders, an argument that is debatable. He fails to appreciate that Zuma may be differently skilled from the other ANC leaders he is compared to.
The argument that ideas are only legitimate when in book form is arbitrary. We live in an advanced world that makes allowance for us to utilise other means to preserve our intellectual contributions. President Zuma might not communicate his ideas on paper, he might opt to communicate them orally. They may be documented through recordings, video tapings or transcriptions. It is a fallacy to argue that Zuma not writing is an indication that he does not think. It is a fallacy to argue that writing is a measure of intellectual sophistication. Many books exist that should never have been published for they lack in intellectual depth.
Furthermore Mangcu needs to be taught politics of context and time. He cites examples of former ANC leaders who, with the exception of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, led before the democratic dispensation. Most of the leaders that he cites led the ANC either when it was in its formative years or when it was banned. Logic dictates that when an organisation is in its birth stages, a theoretical foundation needs to be laid. Therefore it ought to produce extensive literature. And during its years underground, it was imperative for the ANC to communicate to the people, not only to decolonise their minds in a time of liberation struggle, but also to architect a critical pedagogy for the way forward. Post 1994, the burden of theorising is less dominant than it was during the formation of the ANC. The immediate task in this phase of struggle is implementation of the multitudes of policies that have been architected since the ANC became the ruling party 19 years ago because at the level of theoretical conception, there is material available. What is lacking, fundamentally, is implementation. Mangcu argues that president Zuma must write his ideas about the country’s future. What does he mean exactly, because policies are, in fact, an articulation of precisely that! And to say president Zuma must write his own ideas about where the country must go is unreasonable. The president is the leader of the ANC, his ideas do not exist autonomously from those of the ANC. Decisions of the ANC are collective decisions and the principle of democratic centralism subjects all its members to pursue the majority decision.
But beyond this it is opportunistic of Mangcu to expect the president to achieve the feat that was achieved by former leaders who were more educated than him. Most people acquire writing skills from school and unfortunately president Jacob Zuma is not educated in the formal system. Naturally he is at a disadvantage. Mangcu’s argument is the same as beating up a blind child because he or she can’t tell you what colour the sky is. It is insincere and indicated that Mangcu is merely grandstanding as opposed to raising legitimate questions intended at provoking real debate.
Some will argue that I am defending president Zuma. I am a columnist and a contributing writer in various publications including The Thinker, a publication established by the former minister in the presidency, Essop Pahad. I turned 22 two days ago but have written my first book — published by Jacana Publishers — which is being launched on the eve of the 2014 elections. So evidently I take writing very seriously. But to want to suggest that those who do not write are less intelligent or that writing proves intelligence is a lazy argument. It fails to appreciate the fact that people are skilled differently. Not all of us can or should write. One may be an above average writer but below average in other skills. There is nothing about this that warrants condemnation by people who want to project themselves as intellectual superiors solely on the basis that they have published books.
Analysts like Mangcu have made it their mission to bash president Zuma at every opportunity they get whether or not their arguments are coherent. Instead of shaping constructive discussions, these so-called intellectuals are polluting public discourse with lazy shadowboxing and non-debates. Haikhona!